Category: jjimjilbang

Baseball games and jjimjilbangs

The last time I went to a baseball game was 2 years ago, in Atlanta.  I remember being impressed back then with the “culture of the Braves,” as I put it.  The crowds, the advertisements, the entertainment….it was all quite an experience (you can read about that day here).  Definitely not something that you see on an average day in America.

But America has nothing on Korea.  A baseball game in Korea….is truly unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.  I’m not really sure where to start.  I suppose I could start with the scalpers that swarm you when you try to buy your ticket.  Literally – they swarm you.  Like, so thick that you can’t even get to the vendors.  But then, I suppose there are scalpers in America, too, so that’s not such a huge deal.

Ok, well then maybe I could tell you about the cheerleaders.  About their cute little Korean dances that they perform in between every inning, or the mascot break-dancing competition that they had instead of the 7th-inning stretch.  But then, I suppose American mascots do silly things too, so many that’s not so impressive, either.

Of course, the way that they bring in their relief pitchers is pretty special – escorted onto the field in a souped-up mini cooper.  But even with that, the argument may be made that it can be found in other places.

The really unique part of a Korean baseball game would have to be the fans.  Like, when they did the wave – in super slow motion.  And it still made it around the stadium 3 times.  Or, how every player on the home team has a theme song that is played when they come up to bat – and the fans know  And they cheer, and clap, and sing along with  Or how they sing for their home team (the Lotte Giants), to the tune of the most random American songs.  Think along the lines of “Glory, Glory Hallelujah” – Lotte, Lotte, Lotte Looooooootte!  It’s hilarious.  Oh, and those songs are also usually sung with the entire stadium standing with arms linked and swaying back and forth in unison to the music.  

And they bring handmade pom-poms and wave them with enthusiastic vigor….pretty much always.  The entire 3 hour game.  But my favorite part, by far, of a Korean baseball game, was the bags.  Yes, the bags.  Around the end of the 7th inning, park employees start walking around handing out orange plastic bags.  And people put them on their heads.  They do bowties, or headbands, or sometimes belts; but the most common adornment was simply a big ball of air that is then tied to one’s ears.  Bizarre, right?  Wrong.  Here in Korea, it’s….totally….normal.  And that, my friends, is why I love Korea…and why a Korean baseball game is an event that simply cannot be missed.

Following the game, I had another cultural experience.  I went to a…..drumroll, please…..jjimjilbang!!  A jjimjilbang is essentially a sauna and a cheap place to sleep.  There are usually 3 floors – 2 for the saunas (gender-segregated), and 1 common area for sleeping and relaxing.  But oh no.  A jjimjilbang is so, so much more than that.  

When I got there, I was given a locker key and a pair of unisex pajamas – nothing more.  I made my way to the women’s sauna, and found the lockers.  Into these lockers go all of your stuff.  And I mean everything.  Including all of your  clothes.  Every.last.stitch.  After you get good and naked, you head into the sauna part.  First, there are scrubbing stations.  And I mean that in a very literal sense of the word.  There were walls about 4 feet high, with faucets coming out of them, buckets in front of them, and mirrors on the walls in front of the buckets.  So you found a bucket, sat down, and scrubbed.  You scrubbed until you were squeaky clean, until you couldn’t scrub anymore.  After you had made sure that you wouldn’t contaminate the public pools, you could choose a pool to soak in as long as you wanted.  There were several pools, each of varying temperature – the hottest was like 56 degrees C, although I was only able to handle up to 40 degrees.  There were also showers of varying pressure and temperature that you could soak under.  

There was a pair of girls who unknowingly became my heroes that night at the jjimjilbang.  I had never been, so I had no idea what to do, and you can bet your boots that I’m not going to walk up to someone and fumble around in Korean asking them what I should do when we’re both stark naked.  So I just watched the girls out of the corner of my eye and did whatever they were doing.  I’m not a creeper at all…haha :).

Anyway, once you were tired of getting shriveled up like a raisin, you put on your stylish PJs (boys got blue, girls got pink; that was the only difference in them), and made your way to the common area.  There were no beds – just a big open floor, and piles of incredibly thin mats and strange brick-shaped pillows. When you got tired, you got a mat and a brick and set up camp in whatever area of the floor suited your fancy.  Until you got tired, however, there were plenty of other things to keep you occupied.  They had big TVs blaring – which was nice, until it got to be around 1:00 am, and then it got a little annoying.  There was also a restaurant with a simple menu, and massage chairs – although they were about as relaxing as a massage with a jackhammer – and actual masseuses, as well.  

My favorite part, however, were the sauna rooms.  There were 5 separate sauna rooms in the common area, in addition to the pools on the men’s and women’s floors.  These rooms, however, had no water in them.  They were heated rooms made entirely of different materials – the different materials were supposed to give out different medicinal effects.  There was a natural salt room, a wooden room, a rock room, a crystal room, and a coal room (that was the hottest), and also an ice room, as well.  It was pretty cool…no pun intended…haha :).

So the sauna part of the jjimjilbang was nice, but not much of the actual sleeping part really happened, so by the next morning I was pretty tired.  But, there is no rest for the weary!  I had promised Jeanine, my pastor’s wife, that I would help her that day.  She’s teaching an intensive summer course at the university, and also taking care of a newborn, and was feeling a bit overstretched, so I told her I’d come help with some of her grading.  So early Wednesday morning, I took a train from the jjimjilbang to Gyeongju; then from there, took a bus to Pohang, and arrived at her university around lunchtime.  I helped her with her grading, then had dinner at their house, and pastor Mario then drove me back to Gyeongju, where I was just in time to catch the Wednesday night Bible study at church.  Needless to say, by the time I finally fell into my bed that night, I was more than ready for a good night’s sleep.  Overall, it was definitely worth it, though :).  I had a blast, and I feel so much more Korean after having experienced both a baseball game and a jjimjilbang – on the same day, no less!!

The only picture I was allowed to take of the jjimjilbang 🙂

At the beginning of the game….they didn’t seem too crazy….

Me and my friend Jae

The cheerleaders strutting their stuff

OK, now it’s getting a little crazy….teenage guys bringing homemade pom-poms….

wait….EVERYONE has homemade pom-poms!!

The entire stadium with linked arms, lustily singing at every opportunity….
ok, now it’s getting really weird….
Just a shot of the moon and the stadium lights that I thought was cool…

Battle of the mascots 🙂

Korean relief pitchers come on in STYLE! 🙂

Oh yes….you are seeing this picture correctly

Here’s a few videos showing you the progression of the fans’ frenzied excitement as the game progressed: